Six months after launching a statewide initiative to review reports of abuse committed by clergy and faith leaders in Wisconsin, Attorney General Josh Kaul announced Wednesday that they have received nearly 180 reports of abuse by leaders from multiple religious organizations and faith traditions.
“Thank you to the courageous people who have come forward to provide information about clergy and faith leader abuse,” Kaul, a Democrat, said in a statement providing an update about the ongoing inquiry. “This review seeks to help bring healing to survivors and to help stop future harm, and we continue to encourage survivors and others with information to report.”
Since the statewide initiative began, the Wisconsin DOJ has also received reports of abuse not related to any religious organization, while some reports include claims against multiple abusers. With reports of abuse accounting for about 80% of the cases so far, the remaining reports detail how a religious institution responded to reports of abuse.
Those who filed reports ranged in age from 18 to 75. The agency noted that alleged instances of abuse were reported from every Roman Catholic diocese in Wisconsin.
Its frequently asked questions page notes that the Wisconsin DOJ’s initiative allows victims of sexual abuse by clergy and faith leaders to report current and past abuse with no time limitation.
The frequently asked questions page states: “The primary goal of this initiative is to provide victims and survivors with an independent and thorough review of the sexual abuse committed by clergy and faith leaders in Wisconsin, no matter when that abuse occurred. Through this initiative, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) will provide victims and survivors with a safe and confidential means to obtain support from the DOJ Office of Crime Victim Services and referrals to available services.”
Officials noted that having multiple ways for victims of clergy abuse to report their experience allows them to share as much or as little information as they want in order to get help.
“DOJ continues to receive reports online and by phone. The phone calls can provide a meaningful opportunity for survivors to share their report with a trained victim services professional. Many survivors have chosen to speak at length about their experience with a DOJ victim services professional, with some calls lasting more than two hours,” the agency said.
After the DOJ receives reports of abuse, law enforcement officials work with victim services and a prosecutor to review the allegation. This process may take several months to complete. When the inquiry is complete, the DOJ will issue a summary report illustrating its findings.
Wisconsin is one of several states that have conducted sweeping investigations of clerical abuse. In 2019, the Kansas Bureau of Investigations launched 74 investigations into abuse allegedly committed by Catholic clergy. One year earlier, Pennsylvania released a grand jury report detailing how the Catholic Church hierarchy within the state worked to cover up crimes committed by members of the clergy.